Published: Tuesday, May 26 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

He portrays a fading major league slugger who signs with a Japanese team, the Chinichi Dragons, to extend his career. The Japanese dub him "Mr. Baseball," hence the film's title.

"There's a real clash of cultures when the guy gets to Japan, which has been the case with real American players who go there," Selleck said. "It's easy to understand. We read about the culture clash every day.

"The atmosphere is so ripe for misunderstanding, even on the level of languages, which are based on different fundamentals. Ours is based on words, theirs on thoughts.

"A Japanese actor in the picture, who speaks English, sat in on one of my interviews. Afterward he said, `I enjoyed your interview and what I think you wanted to say. But the translator didn't understand the meaning and interpreted your words literally. A lot of people won't like how it came out.'

"Translators have to interpret and cross the cultural barrier. Most of them don't, which accounts for all the crazy quotes on both sides.

"There's a difference between Japanese and American ballplayers.

"I had no trouble communicating with them on the field. They have a real strong work ethic, but it's focused differently than American players. For instance a Japanese pitcher pitches every day. Not in a game, but he throws every day.

"To cure a sore arm, they have him pitch his way out. It doesn't work, but they think it does. They have guys duck-walk right after knee surgery to get back in shape.

"There's a constant butting of heads between my character, his manager and the rest of the team. But he learns a lot, and so do they in terms of things like taking someone out on a double play.

"They're happy when a game ends in a 15-inning tie so nobody loses face. Stuff like that. It's weird, but completly within the ethical standards of Japan, which drives my character nuts.

"I didn't bother with lunch while we were shooting in Japan. Instead, I'd take batting practice.

"A love of baseball runs in my family. My older brother, Bob, played ball with the Dodgers' minor league clubs," he said proudly. "Then he developed knee problems and left the game."

In addition to "Mr. Baseball," Selleck starred in the recent "Folks, " a father-son story in which his father is played by Don Ameche.

" `Folks' and `Mr. Baseball' are two very different pictures," he said. "I loved doing them both."

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